One Christmas Wish by Brenda Jackson
Vaughn Miller rubbed sleep from his eyes, shifted in bed and adjusted his cell phone against his ear. He recognized the caller immediately. “I’m awake now, Deke. What’s going on?” There had to be a reason Deke Hollister was calling him at three in the morning.
“I wanted you to know before it hit the papers that your name is being cleared.”
Vaughn jerked upright in bed. “Say that again.”
Deke chuckled. “You heard me, pal. I couldn’t say anything before now, but the FBI uncovered a white-collar crime syndicate that stretched across several states including New York. They were able to link the group to what happened at your former employer on Wall Street. Arrests have been made and several confessions collected. One of which will exonerate you of all charges. I’m sure some type of restitution will also be in order.”
Vaughn rubbed a hand down his face. No amount of restitution could make up for the two years that his freedom had been taken away from him. Not only his freedom, but also his respect and dignity.
“Thanks for everything you did, Deke. You’re one of the few who believed in my innocence.” The two had met years ago while in college at Yale. Whereas Vaughn had chosen a career on Wall Street, Deke had always wanted to be a crime fighter, and after a short time in the marines, he went to work for the FBI as one of their top agents investigating domestic terrorism. Last year he left the Bureau and started his own security/investigative firm in DC. He was doing quite well for himself due to his ability to solve crimes and the close connections he still had with the FBI.
“There were others who believed in your innocence as well, Vaughn. Don’t forget the people of Catalina Cove welcomed you home.”
Yes, they had. Thirty-five years ago, he was born in Catalina Cove, Louisiana, a small shipping town an hour’s drive from New Orleans. When he’d left for college, he only returned a few times to visit his parents and sister. When they’d eventually moved away as well, there had been no reason to ever return.
When Vaughn decided to return to the cove to live four years ago, he was aware that some of the locals knew he’d served time. It honestly didn’t matter since Reid Lacroix, the wealthiest man in Catalina Cove, had trusted Vaughn enough to immediately hire him as part of his executive team at Lacroix Industries. That hadn’t come as a big surprise to many since, while growing up in the cove, Vaughn and Reid’s son Julius had been best friends. Julius had also been Vaughn’s roommate in college for four years. Sadly, Julius had been killed in a car accident close to nine years ago. He’d been like a brother to Vaughn and it was a loss that still pained him.
“I told you why they were so quick to welcome me, Deke,” Vaughn said. “If Reid Lacroix likes you then the entire town loves you. Very few people go against Reid on anything.” Reid was still the wealthiest man in town. Half the people living in the cove worked at the Lacroix blueberry plant. Back in the day, the Lacroix and Miller families had run in the same circles since both were part of the cove’s old money elites.
The difference between Reid and some of the other wealthy people in town was that not only did Reid have a big heart, but he also genuinely cared about the welfare of Catalina Cove and the people who lived here. He paid his employees a more than fair wage, which is why very few people left until retirement. And Reid believed in giving hefty bonuses. When his companies did well, he had no problem rewarding his employees. Because of his generosity people were very loyal to him.
A part of Vaughn was glad he had decided to return. Although no comments were ever made about him serving time, he often felt there were those who hadn’t been all that certain of his innocence. He hoped his name being cleared would remove all doubt.
“With both you and Sawyer there,” Deke said, pulling Vaughn’s focus back to the conversation, “when I get the time, I plan to visit the cove more often to get some fishing in.”
“You do that. I owe you, buddy, for everything.”
“You would have done the same for me, Vaughn.”
Yes, he would have. A short while later, Vaughn ended the call with Deke. His friend had believed in his innocence from day one and had promised Vaughn that he would clear his name. When Vaughn was released from prison and decided to move back to Catalina Cove, Deke had paved the way by contacting the cove’s new sheriff, Sawyer Grisham, who happened to be a former FBI agent and good friend of Deke’s.
In addition to Reid, Sawyer and Sawyer’s wife, Vashti, who’d been a classmate of Vaughn’s, a number of former classmates had gone out of their way to welcome him back.
His thoughts shifted to Camila Elderberry, his girlfriend at the time he’d been arrested. The moment charges had been filed, she’d bolted, and hadn’t even waited for the trial.
And then there had been Marie.
She was the person he’d come to think of as “his Marie.” He’d never met her, but she had touched his life through her letters. She’d been part of the prison’s Inmate Pen Pal Program, an agency that connected an inmate with someone on the outside who they exchanged letters with, whose sole purpose was keeping inmates motivated and encouraged while confined. He’d only received a total of eight letters from his pen pal Marie and they always seemed to arrive on some of his worst days, when he was at his lowest and needed motivation and encouragement. The letters had been a beacon of hope against the injustices that had put an innocent man behind bars. They had kept him positive, and that optimistic attitude was the reason he had been released after serving only two years of a five-year sentence.
The guidelines of the program prohibited the pen pals from sharing personal information so Vaughn was fairly certain Marie was not even his pen pal’s real name. The letters were delivered to him through the agency and when he wrote back, they were delivered to his pen pal the same way. He definitely owed “his Marie” a debt of gratitude.
And now his name was being cleared.
Vaughn drew in a deep breath, feeling like a heavy weight had been lifted off his chest. Knowing he couldn’t get back to sleep, he eased out of bed. One of the first places he went was to the dresser where he kept a packet full of important papers. He knew just what he was looking for. The letters he’d received from Marie, which he still read on occasion.
Shuffling through the letters, he came to the last one he’d received, which was the one that had inspired him the most.
There are days that will seem hopeless.
And nights that seem filled with despair.
Always look forward to tomorrow.
Brighter days are coming, even when it appears they aren’t.
You must believe.
He slid the letter back into the packet with the others and put them in the dresser before heading back to the bed. With his name cleared, he had reason to believe that for him brighter days were coming.